Thursday, July 17, 2008

In Medias Media

I am not so broody that I have abandoned my favorite pastimes of reading and viewing altogether. To wit:

While in the North Country I read all 768 pages (plus introduction and historical notes) of Owen Glendower by John Cowper Powys. It was Levi at Ivebeenreadinglately who made me aware of the book--and it's hard to trace, but I think it was my early-2008 obsession with Dorothy Sayers that led me to Levi. As he observes, the book isn't easy--although I must say, the only book I know that is that long and also easy is Gone With The Wind--but it is ultimately rewarding. One of its themes is one of my favorite themes of all time: that the great events of history necessarily happened in a much messier, more personal, more complicated way than History with a capital H would have us believe. It's particularly rewarding for anyone with a special interest in Wales and a developing interest in Celtic lore.

Right now my mission is twofold: to finish or discard all the books I've started and abandoned in the past year, and to read all the books people have lent me so I can get them out of the house. Yes, I am in extreme purging mode. Last night I finished No Vulgar Hotel, Judith Martin's (aka Miss Manners) love letter to Venice. I did love Venice when I saw it at age 17--as with Paris, the pleasure is in just being there--but I felt no urge, at that time or while reading, to do as Martin and her friends have done, visiting the city as many as four times a year to the exclusion of all other destinations. The book is a delightful read, and let me give you a piece of advice that the lender gave me too late: skip the part in the middle about the old Venetian family the author has "adopted."

I'm now reading Real Food by Nina Planck. Miss Planck is preaching to the choir in my case, but I do look forward to gaining some conversational ammunition in defense of eggs, beef, bacon and butter.

My admiration of Wendy Wasserstein's work is no secret on this blog. I first saw the Meryl Streep/Jill Eikenberry/Swoosie Kurtz/Ellen Parker production of "Uncommon Women and Others" on PBS in pre-VHS days, which means I was awfully young to be hearing dialogue about phallocentric culture and diaphragms, but my parents privileged aesthetics over age-appropriateness, and they liked Wendy too. I decided it was time for another viewing, which the miracle of Netflix made possible. I was surprised by how mannered the acting is, but moved by the continuing relevance of the characters and their concerns. "Not much has changed for women in thirty years," I observed to my mother, "...and it never will," she replied.

Then I watched "Ratatouille," and I guess my expectations were too high. Or ever since I was frightened by the scurrying plague-ridden rats in The London Experience (at roughly the same age at which I saw "Uncommon Women," so equally imprintable) I haven't been big on cinematic depictions of hordes of scurrying rats. Also, the movie is very, very visual and I am very, very verbal. Anyway, it was fine, but not something I need to own or ever see again.

Next in the Netflix stack was "Away From Her." Well, actually, it's been on the top of the stack since, Netflix informs me, March 21. And on not one evening in the past over-three months have I thought, "Hey, tonight I'd like to watch a movie about a man who has to facilitate his wife's nursing-home romance after Alzheimer's causes her to forget about him and their marriage!" So into the mail it goes. I'm sure it's a great movie, but my tolerance for Bad Stuff in my entertainment decreases yearly. When the movie of A River Runs Through It came out, my grandmother's review was, "I didn't like it. The girl dies at the end." You may remember that "the girl" dies, offscreen, after a long lifetime of wedded bliss. But I can see myself on the trajectory to reach a similar attitude at age 85.

1 comment:

Levi Stahl said...

I'm so glad you read and enjoyed Owen Glendower. Powys's rendering of historic events as fully contingent, depending on individual feeling and action, gives his most dramatic scenes unforgettable force: we're on tenterhooks, knowing these characters well enough to realize that they just might choose to do the wrong thing. It renders history far more immediate, accessible, and, frankly, breathtaking, than, say, Tolstoy's view, which puts us all at the mercy of larger forces beyond our control (however impersonal and aimless they may be); Powys reminds us that we have agency despite whatever situation constrains us. The choice, each time, is ours, and that knowledge is enough to bring shivers.

Owen Glendower is the only Powys I've read, though I have been given to understand that once you're convinced by Powys, you'll likely appreciate all his works. I may wait for winter, then give A Glastonbury Romance a try.